closeup of cctv camera background is a running computer

Whether you’ll be away from home while travelling or just during the workday, you may want to keep an eye on it. Solutions like Nest’s Nest Cam (formerly Dropcam) try to make this easy, but there’s more than one way to do this.

We’re not focused on full security systems with alarms and other features here — just cameras so you can keep an eye on your place with live streaming and video recordings.

Plug-and-Play Streaming Cameras

Many manufacturers are trying to make this even easier, offering plug-and-play solutions linked to web services and smartphone apps. These don’t require you connect the camera to a computer or any other device — you just need the camera and an Internet connection.

Google’s Nest Cam works this way — Nest actually purchased Dropcam, which pioneered this. Plug it in, link it to an account, and then you can access it from the web or a smartphone as well as setting up automatic recording. Keeping those recordings will cost you at least $10 a month, though. Storing the recordings “in the cloud” on the service’s own server does have one advantage — if someone breaks in and steals your equipment, you’ll still have access to the footage.

Other manufacturers have made similar solutions, from the simplicam to the HomeMonitor to the Belkin Netcam HD.

nest cam

IP Cameras

The above devices are convenient and easy to set up, but you may not want to store recordings on a service’s remote servers when you could keep them for yourself.

If you want to do this yourself, you’re looking for an “IP camera.” This just means it’s a digital video camera that can send data through the Internet protocol on a network.

You’ll still have to do some legwork yourself if you want to remotely access the stream over the Internet or just have the camera save a recording to another device in your home.

RELATED: How to Set Up a NAS (Network-Attached Storage) Drive

Some IP cameras require a network video recorder to record to, while others can record their videos directly to a NAS (network-attached storage) device or a PC you’ve set up to function as a server. Some IP cameras even have built-in Micro SD card slots so they can record directly to that physical media — they may even have built-in servers so you can access the recording remotely.

If you’re creating your own server, you’ll need to pick some IP camera software and set it up yourself. You can hook multiple cameras up to get a more complete view of your place, and IP cameras are often cheaper than plug-and-play solutions like the Nest Cam. However, there’s a good chance you’ll have to pay a license fee to use whatever software you choose.

Picture of Wireless IP camera on white camera


Rather than get a full IP camera, you could potentially just get a webcam and connect it via USB to a computer running the appropriate recording software. You may even have a spare webcam you can use for this. Webcams tend to be cheaper than IP cameras, although they may lack important features like night vision for recording what happens when it’s completely dark.

Unlike an IP camera, the webcam must be connected directly to the computer via USB, while the IP camera can be elsewhere in the house and connect over Wi-Fi.

You’ll need to pick some sort of “webcam surveillance software” — recording and video-capture software that’s designed to work with webcams and not just IP cameras. Much of this is software you’ll need to pay for, but you’re still saving money overall.

And, yes, if you do this, you’ll need to keep your computer running 24/7 — if you want to record all day, at least.

Turn an Old Phone Into a Security Camera

RELATED: How to Turn An Old Android Phone into a Networked Security Camera

If you have an old Android phone lying around, you could potentially turn it into a network security camera. After all, it has a camera, Wi-Fi, and a built-in computer — everything it needs to capture, stream, and record video. We’ve previously covered how to turn on old Android phone into a network security camera. If you have a spare phone you’re not putting to use, it might be worth a shot.

Be sure to do your research when purchasing cameras and software. If you’re getting a plug-and-play camera, understand whether you’ll have to pay a monthly fee. If you’re getting an IP camera or webcam, check whether it offers the features you want — not all cameras offer night vision or HD recording, for example.

Image Credit: Maik Meid on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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